Tyrann Mathieu was able to watch Delvin Breaux as he rose through the ranks of the New Orleans football system.

Mathieu heard about his play in pee-wee leagues and then was able to see Breaux play in high school at McDonogh 35. If Breaux hadn’t suffered a spinal injury that wiped out his collegiate career, Mathieu said the public would be looking at Breaux in a different light — and perhaps even one of the better cornerbacks in the NFL.

“Had he not hurt his neck, he would have been in the same conversation as (Arizona Cardinals cornerback) Patrick Peterson because they did have some of the same physical tools,” Mathieu, a safety for the Cardinals, said. “He was big, strong and fast, and before he hurt his neck he just completely dominated high school receivers in New Orleans.”

Mathieu isn’t the only one who believes that. Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro saw the comments made by the Cardinals safety and agreed with the sentiment.

Vaccaro has already said he believes Breaux has the potential to be a superstar for the Saints. He swears he isn’t providing lip service.

“I’m not trying to boost him at all,” Vaccaro said. “He hasn’t played a game yet, but as far as going against our offense every day … we’re going against our ones now, you know what I’m saying? This is one of the best offenses year after year.”

Play calls

Payton may not handle all of the Saints’ play-calling duties this season.

Offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael may get his chances, too. Carmichael, who called plays in 2011 after Payton broke his leg and has handled duties in preseason games the past two years, gives the Saints another option.

So far, New Orleans is still working on how the two will divide duties when the regular season begins Sunday in Arizona.

“We’ll figure it out here as we go,” Payton said. “Pete’s someone that’s been real in tune to what we’re doing. It may change week by week.”

Safety dance

With only four safeties on the roster and Jairus Byrd on the mend from an injury, the Saints could find themselves in a situation where help is needed if Rafael Bush were to succumb to an injury.

There isn’t an obvious option on the roster. Kenny Vaccaro and Jamarca Sanford are both strong safeties. So, if something were to happen, it’s likely the team would either look to cornerbacks Damian Swann or Kyle Wilson to fill in that role.

Sanford, despite being a strong safety, could also be tapped to fill in there.

“There would be a number of guys, but those would be three guys, specifically, would come to mind if that makes sense,” Payton said.

Swann played some free safety in college at Georgia. He said he feels comfortable in the role and would be willing to slide back, if needed.

“Absolutely,” Swann said. “Whatever our defensive coaches want, I’m ready for, I’m all for.”

Roll call

Tim Hightower returned to practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday’s session because of a knee injury.

The running back’s return is significant since New Orleans will likely be without C.J. Spiller this weekend against the Arizona Cardinals. New Orleans also has Mark Ingram, Khiry Robinson and Marcus Murphy at running back.

Linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (toe), Spiller (knee), cornerback Keenan Lewis (hip), linebacker Davis Tull (shoulder) and safety Jairus Byrd (knee) did not participate.

Ellerbe, Lewis and Tull were observing the session during the portion of practice that was open to the media.

Oh captain

The Saints have named their captains for the season.

Quarterback Drew Brees, offensive lineman Zach Strief and punter Thomas Morstead return from last year as team captains. Cornerback Brandon Browner, defensive end Cam Jordan and tight end Ben Watson are newcomers to the group.

Watson’s position to the group is new this year. Typically, the team used to have only two offensive captains.